Tampa Bay Lightning goaltending coach Frantz Jean has been plying his trade for more than 25 years across various levels of hockey.
In that time, he can recall one, possibly two goalies with the drive and work ethic displayed at a young age like that of Lightning second-year pro Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“His approach is like an approach of a veteran, a guy that’s been a professional for many years,” Jean said. “You don’t see that often from a 21-year-old, that discipline and the pregame preparation, the post-game recovery, the summer preparation…I haven’t seen that often from athletes I’ve been around.”
During informal workouts at the Lightning’s training facility in Brandon in September, Vasilevskiy, the Lightning’s backup goalie, noticed his left arm had swelled significantly.
It was also blue.
After showing head athletic trainer Tom Mulligan, Vasilevskiy was sent to Tampa General Hospital where doctors discovered a blood clot. Vasilevskiy underwent surgery September 3 to remove the clot near his left collarbone and treat a type of Vascular Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.
“You know that feeling when you sleep on your hand? That’s how it felt,” Vasilevskiy said. “When I had surgery, I felt empty inside. Two months, just like that, gone.”
Vasilevskiy was initially expected to need two to three months before he could return to the ice, meaning he would miss at least the first month of the regular season and maybe two.
But Vasilevskiy was back with the Lightning less than two months after having surgery. Following two conditioning starts with Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse where he stopped 56-of-58 shots total and went 2-0-0, Vasilevskiy made his first start for the Lightning November 1 in Carolina and made 32 saves to win his debut.
He stopped 30-of-31 shots four days later in Buffalo to win his second-straight start to open the season.
Vasilevskiy’s non-stop work rate played a big part in his accelerated rehab.
“He didn’t miss anything – treatments, off-ice, on-ice workouts,” Jean said. “He was really disciplined making sure he was doing the job he had to do to come back…We were on the ice every day for 45 minutes, just him and I, and he never came in once saying, ‘Again, today?’ He was, ‘Let’s get to work.’ That’s rare.”
Part of Vasilevskiy’s work ethic can be attributed to his father, who goes by the same name and played goalie in the Russian Superleague for many seasons with Salavat Yulaev Ufa.
“He grew up around dressing rooms seeing professional players,” Jean said. “So, probably that had an impact on him. Plus, he’s a disciplined person…He knows what he wants. He knows how he wants to get there.”
Completely healthy again, Vasilevskiy figures to spell starter Ben Bishop regularly to give Bishop much-needed rest and the youngster more NHL experience.
Vasilevskiy will be ready for the increased work load.
He’ll relish it in fact.